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Stop Sweeping LatinX History Under the Rug

A story as underrepresented as its characters

By Belén Bonilla | 12/12/17 8:45am
Sherry Gui / American Word Magazine

LatinX history is vibrant, rich and impassioned. It is intricately woven by the colorful serapes worn on the backs of resilient women, the callused hands of day laborers, the courage of strong-willed immigrants who shared LatinX culture with every corner of the globe and the human resolve that pushes for progress with its deeply rooted value in community.

Like every region, the nations of Latin America offer histories of war, political instability, strife, lessons in economic advancement, stellar performers, noteworthy authors, psychologists, philosophers and legends of creative thinking.

So, why is authentic LatinX history so inaccessible in the American education system?

There have been few national attempts to spread awareness of authentic LatinX history in the past – the most famous being President Lyndon B. Johnson’s introduction of Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrated from Sept. 15 – Oct. 15 each year. Hispanic Heritage Month was meant to be a time for legislators to focus on the interests of Hispanic Americans and to spread awareness of Hispanic culture in America.

This year, Hispanic Heritage Month coincided with President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) – a move that could separate hundreds of thousands of LatinX families – as the LatinX population holds the highest number of recipients enrolled in the DACA program.

The Trump administration’s rhetoric towards the LatinX community reveals that there is a knowledge gap in how LatinX history is understood in America. President Trump’s references to the LatinX community in the U.S. have primarily been aimed at Mexican-Americans, who he has notoriously said bring drugs and crime to the country.

One of the Trump administration’s immigration policy goals is building a wall separating the U.S. from the border of Mexico. Yet, the LatinX community in the U.S. consists of people with nationalities from 20 different Latin-American countries — not just those of Mexican descent.

Events organized and led by LatinX community leaders often reflect this reality. The District kicked off Hispanic Heritage Month with the Fiesta D.C. Festival, an annual event hosted outside the U.S. Capitol. At the festival, Mexico was represented by only a few tents called the “Mexican Pavilion.” The majority of the LatinX groups attending the festival were from El Salvador, Panamá, Puerto Rico, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Many, like Wilbert Gomez, came to the festival to spread awareness of the intricate diversity represented within Latin America.

“Being from San Salvador and living in the U.S., I came to the festival because it is a reunion for Central Americans,” Gomez said. “We have to preserve our traditions.”

The U.S. LatinX population is often grouped into one amalgamation of a community, when in reality, each nationality under the umbrella of LatinX is uniquely its own. The story of how so many diverse individuals came to the U.S. is often brushed over in courses at both high school and university levels, if students are given the opportunity to take them at all.

Where U.S. history intersects with the history of Latin America is where America’s image is tainted. Even ethnocentric interpretations of LatinX history struggle to account for the period during the 1970’s and 1980’s when the U.S. silently presided over a genocide in the region.

In addition to sponsoring right-wing death squads in Guatemala, forcing the imposition of a destructive dictator in Nicaragua and creating war-torn strife that created lasting economic inequities in the region, the U.S. continues to deny political asylum to refugees escaping the very disaster zones it created in the first place.

This academic year at American University, there is not a single course in “Area Two: Traditions that Shaped the Western World” general education offerings that sheds light on LatinX history, despite the region’s immense impact on shaping the globe. In fact, in the entire general education program at AU, only one course is dedicated to teaching the history of Latin America.

Unless a student is majoring or minoring in Latin American studies, or focusing on Latin America as a regional focus within the School of International Service, LatinX history remains completely inaccessible.

It is not only morally unethical, but to the disadvantage of upcoming global leaders that LatinX history be swept under the rug. The intricate past of LatinX communities in the U.S. remains as marginalized as the present constituents within them. 

The fastest growing minority group in the U.S. deserves a focus beyond Hispanic Heritage Month to show the contributions of LatinX people to both the world and this country.